There’s no denying that the technical properties of modern outerwear is leaps and bounds above what was available decades ago. However, while functionality has increased, aesthetics, unfortunately, seem to have decreased. To put it plainly: the majority of contemporary performance gear just looks bad. For all their breathable / waterproof / moisture-wicking qualities, many of today’s garments still leave much to be desired in their appearance. Brooklyn’s Owner Operator is trying to change that.
Combining retro styling with cutting-edge performance technology, OO’s high-tech apparel offers the best of both worlds: advanced materials and classic looks. Even better, the brand’s entire collection is made in the USA, so not only do the pieces emulate their forebears design-wise, they do so quality-wise as well. Owner Operator co-founder Steven Kimura recently took some time out to discuss local manufacturing, product testing, and paying models with beer. Here’s what he had to say.
Well Spent: Give us the Owner Operator origin story.
Steven Kimura: Pete and I grew up snowboarding and skateboarding together in upstate New York. It was a great scene, with cool gear made by brands you could really relate to. As we got older, we were still as excited as ever about riding, but we felt like the vibe of the industry was starting to have more flash than fidelity. We wanted to go back to that idealism and excitement we felt as kids, create a company built on that enthusiasm and transparency. We own the company, we design the gear, and we test and build it to fit our own experiences on the mountain.
Tell us about the products.
Owner Operator manufactures modern technical gear with classic style. More specifically, we make parkas, snow pants, mittens, knit hats, and tees. Every piece of gear we create has to function in the real environment. We’ve tested our parkas in whiteout conditions, in hail storms on the mountain, in days that suddenly turn into steamy sunlight. Outerwear has to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable. But, we also think it should look good too, so we’ve put a lot of thought into the fit and appearance as well.
Tell us about the design process.
The best way to refine your products is to be out there in the snow seeing what works and what doesn’t. We’ve probably sewn a dozen versions of the 111 Parka to get it where it is today. We paid our friend and fit model Aaron at least a dozen six packs to wave his arms around, pretend to adjust his bindings, or just stand there patiently while we adjust the fit. Ultimately, we design for our own needs. Which means that a real person, not a sales analyst, has considered where and how to vent your jacket, or whether the fleece in your mittens should be smooth or have texture.
Tell us about the production / manufacturing.
We sew all of our outerwear in NYC’s Garment District. Keeping our production in the USA is the right thing to do for so many reasons. The farther you get from your own backyard, the less you know about what’s going on. We can actually ride our bikes from the office, right to the factory any time we want to check in on how things are going. All our accessories are made in the USA too. Why go halfway around the world when the best wool hats are made in Vermont?
When we started out, we would show people our sample parkas that we made, and they would tell us that no factory in the USA could make a garment that complicated. We’d tell them that we made it ourselves, at home, but they’d just shake their heads. Tough Traveler, from our hometown of Schenectady, NY, was a real inspiration to us as we sought out domestic suppliers and manufacturers. They’re still making all of their gear two miles from the house I grew up in.
Clearly the jackets are great for snowboarding, but what about us non-riders? What’s in it for us?
Our parkas work great everywhere. Waiting for the bus or walking around the city in winter conditions is actually a pretty similar experience to being in the mountains. Having a hood that wraps around your head and face in snow and rain is an amazing urban feature. That, plus having breathable fabric that won’t overheat as you are moving, or leave you steamed when you stop, makes the 111 a key city jacket. Our styling is deliberately conservative, and works everywhere. We’ve also designed our jackets to last. Whether we’re in the mountains, or in the city (where we live and work), we want our jackets to be an essential wardrobe piece that we’re always reaching for.
Are there any future projects / products you can tell us about?
We’re just finishing up our Winter 2012-13 line now, then we’ll travel back in time to design our Spring/Summer 2012 line. We’re particularly excited about our concept for board shorts, but that might just be because winter is finally arriving here in the Northeast. We’re also working on some bags and luggage for Spring and Summer travels.
What would you say to someone who’s still on the fence about buying from Owner Operator?
Owner Operator is a company that cares about the form and function of its garments, and makes pieces that fit a modern lifestyle in all its considerations: conscience, attitude, appearance. We definitely design with the mountains in mind, but that’s because it’s an ideal environment to stress-test our designs. Ultimately, Owner Operator is a company that makes decisions based on our dearest values. Freedom, transparency, and following in the traditions of great brands of the past. We’re not a heritage brand today, but in thirty years we hope to be.
For price and purchase info, visit Owner Operator.